For Sunday’s game at Detroit, the Minnesota Vikings were down five starters on defense who have made a combined 19 Pro Bowls, so obviously there were going to be some issues. But for much of the second half the defense actually was dominant.
After falling behind 20-6 at halftime, Minnesota held the Lions to just 56 yards and three points on their first five possessions of the second half. The Vikings came all the way back to take a 27-23 lead on Kirk Cousins’ 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson with 1:50 remaining.
But then Minnesota’s defense collapsed. The Lions waltzed 75 yards down the field and won 29-27 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play for their first win of the season.
“I felt horrible,” defensive end D.J. Wonnum said Monday. “We did all this for it to come down to the last play of the game and for them to score.”
Wonnum moved into the starting lineup after star defensive end Danielle Hunter was lost for the season on Oct. 31 with a torn pectoral muscle. In addition to Hunter, other former Pro Bowl players out Sunday were linebackers Anthony Barr (hamstring) and Eric Kendricks (biceps), cornerback Patrick Peterson (COVID-19 reserve list) and defensive end Everson Griffen (non-football illness list).
Barr, Kendricks and Peterson could be back for Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh at U.S. Bank Stadium. But Sunday’s stunning defeat could have doomed the season for Minnesota (5-7), which dropped into the No. 9 spot in the NFC playoff race.
“It was as good as you can do it, I think, for us offensively and we were able to walk down the field there on them and made that play at the end,” Goff said.
Walk down the field? Yes, that came from a quarterback whose team is now 1-10-1.
Goff completed 9 of 14 passes for 80 yards on the drive as the Lions carved up Minnesota without the benefit of a timeout. He had two spikes to stop the clock, and Detroit twice got out of bounds.
“I think it’s pretty simple,” linebacker Blake Lynch said of the final drive. “We just need to tackle, keep them in bounds and execute the calls better … We missed a few tackles at the end of the game that really hurt us.”
Lynch, a second-year player who is usually the Vikings’ fourth linebacker was on the field for all 72 defensive plays because Barr and Kendricks were out. He had nine tackles, including the first two sacks of his career, and a fumble recovery. But he was in no mood Monday to talk about his numbers following the last-second defeat.
“Ultimately, our job is to win the game, and we didn’t do that,” Lynch said. “We didn’t do enough of our jobs as players to win.”
A problem that has plagued the Vikings all season reared its head again: A failure to stop teams in the final two minutes of a half.
In the final 32 seconds of the first half, after Cousins was sacked for a three-yard loss on fourth-and-10, and Detroit took over on its 45. Before time ran out, the Vikings allowed the Lions to pick up 32 yards to get in range for a 41-yard Riley Peterson field goal. Then came the disastrous drive at the end of the game.
“We’ve practiced it in practice and ultimately when it comes to game time, we need to execute, we need to tackle, we need to do what we do in practice,” Lynch said of two-minute drills. “We just need to get it done.”
The Vikings, often rushing three, did not get pressure on Goff on the final drive after sacking him three times earlier in the game. And safety Harrison Smith said after the game that Minnesota’s pass coverage on the drive was “too soft.”
Goff, taking the final snap with 4 seconds left, found Brown on the left side just beyond the goal line. Vikings safety Xavier Woods and cornerback Cameron Dantzler surprisingly were behind Brown rather than guarding the goal line.
“What’s going through my mind is a three-down front (and) we’ve got to get to the quarterback by any means,” Wonnum said of the play. “We’re trusting the guys to execute, and we just weren’t able to do it. So we’ve got to get back in the lab this week, have a short-term memory and get ready for Pittsburgh.”